The Folk Implosion
The Folk Implosion
Retro rock band
After Lou Barlow received the boot in 1989 as bass guitarist for the indie group Dinosaur Jr., he turned his misfortune around and settled into a respectable career path with Sebadoh, a group which stood the fine line between selling out to commercialism and the freedom of indie territory that produced a consistent flow of notable records. In 1993, in addition to making solo records as Sentridoh, Barlow started a second project, the Folk Implosion, with solo recording artist John Davis. While both musicians felt an aversion to the mass music industry, they nevertheless found themselves on the modern rock charts when a song entitled “Natural One” became an unexpected hit. After coming to terms with the popular success of the single, the Folk Implosion shed their association with the lesser-known Communion label (which issued the pair’s first two albums) in favor of a contract with the established Interscope Records.
Barlow was born around 1966 and spent his younger life in and around Boston, Massachusetts. He experienced indie-level celebrity at an early age as the bassist for Dinosaur Jr., an influential underground rock band formed in 1984 (the group disbanded in 1997) in Amherst, Massachusetts, under the direction of lead guitarist and vocalist J Mascis (born Joseph D. Mascis). During Barlow’s stint with Dinosaur Jr., the young guitarist and vocalist joined forces with percussionist and songwriter Eric Gaffney to record homemade tapes as Sebadoh. In 1989, the pair’s work, recorded in various living rooms and bedrooms between 1986 and 1988 and entitled The Freed Man, was picked up by Homestead Records. That same year, Dinosaur Jr. fired Barlow, who left the group under less than friendly conditions. According to Barlow, Masics’s unrelenting control made working with Dinosaur Jr. difficult, though Mascis blamed Barlow’s inept social skills as the cause for his dismissal. Nonetheless, Barlow seemed well on his way to establishing a respectable career with Sebadoh, as two more albums followed in 1990: Weed Forestin, as well as The Freed Weed, which compiled 41 tracks from the first two projects.
With the addition of a third songwriting voice and bassist, Jason Lowenstein, who officially joined Sebadoh in 1989, the group started playing live. During performances, audiences witnessed the conflicting musical styles that would become Sebadoh’s signature as Gaffney’s noise-rock experiments shared the stage with Barlow’s acoustic numbers. Personal differences plagued the band as well, and Gaffney departed and returned on numerous occasions between 1990 and 1993, the year he left Sebadoh for good. Upon his departure, Bob Fay, the regular fill-in for Gaffney during his frequent absences, became Sebodah’s full-time drummer. Despite such turmoil, Sebadoh forged ahead, releasing Sebadoh ///for Homestead in 1991, signing with the well-established indie label Sub Pop Records, and recording the albums Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock in 1992 and Bubble and Scrape in 1993. The following year, 1994’s Bake-sale, Sebadoh’s first commercial success, rendered the modern rock hit “Rebound,” while their next release, 1996’s Harmacy, became the group’s first album to chart in the United States (Ironically, Barlow was known for his contempt for the standard music business, refusing high-profile gigs and subverting Sebadoh’s pop material with sonic experimentation). Sebadoh returned with a new drummer, Russ Pollard, in 1999 for the release of The Sebadoh.
In the meantime, Barlow was enjoying success as a solo artist (releasing work under the name Sentridoh) and with his side project the Folk Implosion, a band he formed with a former Sebadoh fan named Jon Davis. Davis, who had released solo records as well, was a noted performer known for his minimal guitar technique that backed his songs primarily about childhood memories. The two first met in the late 1980s when Davis, then a high school student in Boston, sent Barlow some tapes he had made at his home. In the fall of 1993, Barlow and Davis joined forces, writing and recording songs at Davis’s home that appeared on several EPs, including The Electric Idiot in 1994 and Walk Through This World with the Folk Implosionin 1994, in addition to theirdebut album, TakeaLook Inside the Folk Implosion in 1995, for the Communion
Members include Lou Barlow (born c. 1966; former bassist for Dinosaur Jr.; vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter for Sebadoh), vocals, guitar; John Davis, vocals, guitar.
Formed band, 1993; released debut album Take a Look Inside the Folk Implosion, 1995; single “Natural One” from the Kids soundtrack became a top 40 hit, 1995; released Dare To Be Surprised, 1997; released One Part Lullaby, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024, phone (310) 208-6547, fax (310) 208-7343. Website —Folk Implosion at the Communion label: http://www.midheaven.com, Folk Implosion at Interscope Records: http://www.folkimplosion.com.
label. Noteworthy tracks from Take a Look Inside included the punk title track, the John Lennon-inspired “Slap Me,” and the Residents-styled “Sputnik’s Down.” Shortly thereafter, the Folk Implosion scored a commercial success when “Natural One,” a song created for Larry Clark’s acclaimed 1995 film Kids about New York teenagers, became a top 40 radio hit.
After recording the Kids soundtrack, Barlow and Davis started working with engineer Wally Gagel in the summer of 1995 at his studio, Bliss, located in Boston. Because of the studio’s relaxed atmosphere and low hourly cost, not to mention the promotional distractions resulting from the popularity of “Natural One,” the Folk Implosion averaged three days a month in the studio over the course of a year before arriving at a finished product. Consequently, Dare To Be Surprised, issued in 1997 by Communion, was the result of ever-changing musical intentions. At first, Barlow and Davis wanted to focus on garage band/new wave elements, but as the winter and early spring of 1996 approached, they found themselves adding groove-oriented sounds as well. The album earned favorable critical reviews, with tracks such as “Barricade” and “Ball and Chain.” As Ivan Kreilkamp of the Village Voice asserted, with Dare To Be Surprised, “Barlow and Davis show a way out of the indie trap in which charisma must be simultaneously denied and flaunted. Against the album’s endless store of casual seeming but maddeningly catchy looped rhythms, their twinned voices emerge as if from a kid singing a DJ’s dance floor exhortations to himself in the backseat on a long night’s car trip…. Folk Implosion reject a dull charade for one they can enjoy, making music over which personal emotions slide like water off a duck’s back.”
The two also made peace with their ambivalence over the success of “Natural One,” which took some getting used to by these otherwise opponents of the popular music industry. As Davis wrote for the Folk Implosion’s website, “hearing it [the hit] pop up in such unlikely places as Karaoke bars, fashion runways, and Yankee Stadium did a lot to lighten our mood.” In addition to spending time in the studio during 1995 and 1996, Barlow recorded Harmacywiih Sebadoh, while Davis worked on a solo project, Blue Mountains, in February and June of 1996. In order to promote Harmacy, Barlow embarked on a short tour in the United States and Europe with his other group in late 1996 and into early 1997. During the same time, Davis toured in support of his solo album, playing dates on the West coast with the Double U and opening for Sebadoh for their East coast shows. The Folk Implosion made time, though, during the spring and summer of 1997, to tour North America and Europe supporting Dare To Be Surprised.
In early 1998, Barlow bid farewell to his hometown of Boston. He and wife Kathleen bought a home in the town of Silver Lake in the Los Angeles area. When asked why he decided to move, Barlow answered “Because it’s cheaper,” as quoted by Jim Sullivan of the Boston Globe. “All the places I’d want to live in Boston are extremely expensive. Plus, I need a place to play that’s also my house. I’ve been living in my cave, trying desperately not to bug anybody.” He also added that although he would miss the security and loyal fans of Boston, he felt that the change of lifestyle—living in the suburbs near the world’s center of entertainment—might help to further his musical development.
While Barlow admitted that he would miss his hometown, he nevertheless felt glad to say farewell to 1997, despite the success enjoyed by both the Folk Implosion and Sebadoh. He revealed, “It’s been the most frustrating year for me, musically, ever,” as quoted by Sullivan. “The records I spent time promoting [Dare To Be Surprised with the Folk Implosion and Harmacy with Sebadoh] were made in ’96, and with Sebadoh, we were winding down and getting a new drummer. We had to acclimate ourselves, spend time hanging out and not pushing ourselves…. It was a nonmusical year, a noncreative juggling of facts and figures, which I found enervating. I feel I’m in the midst of an amazing writer’s block, even though I’m not.”
Barlow also realized the disadvantages of remaining on an independent label, as neither of the albums sold as well as anticipated. While Sebadoh would remain with Sub Pop for future releases, Barlow and the group opted to distribute through Sire/Warner Brothers. Likewise, the Folk Implosion signed with Interscope Records in early 1998 for forthcoming releases. In addition to developing songs for Sebadoh’s next release, Barlow started recording new tracks for the Folk Implosion during 1998 and 1999 with Davis at his new house in California, and the geographic change proved to be the cure for his lacking creativity.
In the fall of 1999, the Folk Implosion released their fourth album, One Part Lullaby, which also won critical approval. Here, Barlow and Davis “leave lo-fi jinks behind in favor of sleek, lushly textured pop, the kind of infectious drone they brilliantly captured with ‘Natural One,’” concluded Edna Gunderson of USA Today. “Without losing their bite, the two abandon trademark gloom and mute sarcasm to let optimism and cheer percolate to the surface… In such highlights as the gorgeous ‘Back to the Sunrise,’ arresting ‘Mechanical Man’ and atmospheric ‘Easy LA.,’ Folk Implosion devises ingenious mutations that fuse electro chops to retropop.”
Take a Look Inside the Folk Implosion, Communion, 1994.
The Folk Implosion, Communion, 1996.
Dare to Be Surprised, Communion, 1997.
One Part Lullaby, Interscope, 1999.
MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Billboard, October 23, 1999.
Boston Globe, April 4, 1997; January 2, 1998; March 18, 1999.
Magnet, October/November 1999, p. 77.
Melody Maker, December 5, 1998.
Rolling Stone, August 5, 1999.
Village Voice, May 6, 1997.
USA Today, September 14, 1999.
Folk Implosion at Interscope Records, http://www.folkimplosion.com (January 10, 2000).
Folk Implosion at the Communion label, http://www.midheaven.com (January 10, 2000).
RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (January 10, 2000).
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